row and you have to explain the same story (while) I’m forgetting all these key moments in my life. Just try and explain and see how passionate I am about this game. I made a lot of sacrifice. I left my country, my family, my girlfriend – she’s my wife today – just to be here and pursue this dream. (In) sixth grade, there was a classmate who threw around the football and I just start throwing around with him and he saw I got some catching skills and he asked me to join his club team, the Berlin Adler, and I did, and I just fell in love with flag football at the time. But when you turn 15 you automatically advance to tackle football and it was just the most amazing feeling just hitting people. I just fell in the love with the game. I played a lot of Madden, that’s how I got to know the NFL. It was just crazy. And then my head coach, Joerg Hoffman, said, ‘You have a lot of potential. You should try to go to high school and go through the whole American recruiting process with the goal to be here and get drafted.’ I never looked back, it was just, ‘Pursue that dream.’” – Werner, on his path from Germany to the NFL Draft.
Position analysis: The Packers have invested plenty in the defensive line on general manager Ted Thompson’s watch, and as he often points out, “The good Lord only made so many big guys.” But the challenge is finding the right big guys, and that’s not always easy. The jury’s still out on last year’s picks – second-rounder Jerel Worthy and fourth-rounder Mike Daniels – although 2010 second-round pick Mike Neal showed encouraging signs of life after two disappointing, injury-derailed seasons to start his NFL career. Thus, the position remains a need. B.J. Raji, the first of the team’s two first-round picks in 2009, is entering the final year of his rookie contract, while veteran defensive tackle Ryan Pickett, who first joined the team as an unrestricted free agent in 2006, is also in the final year of his deal. Set to turn 34 in October, it’s reasonable to wonder how much more he has in the tank.
Neal’s emergence was encouraging – playing just 323 snaps as situational pass rusher, he finished with 4.5 sacks, second only to Clay Matthews on the team, along with four QB hits and 17 hurries – as was Raji bouncing back from a subpar 2011. Worthy said at the Wisconsin Sports Awards that he expects to be ready for the start of the season despite suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in the regular-season finale at Minnesota on Dec. 30. It’ll be interesting to see whether the Packers, having inked Matthews to an extension and on the verge of an extension for quarterback Aaron Rodgers, will try to get a long-term deal done with Raji before season’s end. He has the same agent as Matthews and Rodgers (David Dunn), which could expedite the process.
Draft strategy: It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Packers used the 26th overall pick on a defensive lineman. It also wouldn’t be surprising if he ended up being a disappointment. Since 1997, the team has taken 24 defensive linemen, and while Raji (No. 9 overall, 2009) and Vonnie Holliday (No. 19 overall, 1998) proved to be sound first-round selections, Jamal Reynolds (No. 10 overall, 2001) and Justin Harrell (No. 16 overall, 2007) were unmitigated disasters. For every Aaron Kampman (fifth round, No. 156 overall, 2002) hit, there have been high-pick misses, from Kenny Peterson (third round, 2003) to Donnell Washington (third round, 2004). Neal (second round, 2010) appears to be on the upswing, and Daniels’ rookie year was encouraging. Still, expect Thompson to use at least one of his eight picks, if not two, on the line. The team expressed an interest in restricted free agent defensive tackle Steve McClendon, who re-upped with the Pittsburgh Steelers for three years after visiting Green Bay. That would indicate that the Packers know there’s still a need there. Whether it’s an early selection or a late-rounder, expect at least one new guy in the rotation.
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.